The MCM LTER has had a rich history of collaboration, and our philosophy is that we are open to collaboration on any aspect of the project, as long as we can accommodate it both scientifically and logistically. Scientifically, we use the hypotheses of the currently funded grant to guide our activities. While our proposal lays out our plans for testing those hypotheses, we are of course excited to engage and collaborate with scientists who have complementary skills and expertise which may contributing to additional ways of testing our hypotheses. We are open to collaboration with individuals and research groups that may have their own funding to conduct research in the Dry Valleys (the site of both the MCM LTER and many other independent research projects), or potentially as individuals working closely with one or more of our PIs. Logistically, we have limited access to our field site (October to February) and a fixed number of slots available (generally 31/year). Planning far enough ahead (a year or so) will ensure consideration of special requests for equipment, shipping, etc., though all specifics are subject to NSF and logistical contractor capabilities and approval. We generally engage in two types of collaborations – intellectual and field collaborations.
There are many opportunities to write new papers that address key scientific questions with data in hand or through combining data from different parties. Hence, one such collaboration type is an Intellectual Collaboration, which may be led by an MCM LTER PI, or someone else. These collaborations are more common than field collaborations and provide ways of leveraging different data sets to advance science. While they require time and effort, they generally do not require resources redirected from our project.
Field Collaborations are those that require data or sample collection from the field sites and may also include deployment of a collaborator. We expect that these generally also include an Intellectual Collaboration, likely after sample/data collection and analysis. All LTER sites are meant to be open to others to work at the same locations and the MCM LTER is no different. However, these collaborations are more rare than Intellectual Collaborations because more resources are involved. They are nonetheless valuable in advancing science and contributing to testing our hypotheses. Some potential collaborators seek to jump to this type first. As such, it is important to consider a few things.
First and foremost, we cannot act as an agent for scientists to work around NSF. A lot can be done with analyses from field samples these days (and this capability is only increasing), and arguably, science can be advanced through novel analyses of field samples. However, our science team is funded to conduct the science that was approved and funded by the NSF. Therefore, we should only be collecting samples and analyzing them if these help test the hypotheses of the grant with which the fieldwork is associated. Field collaborations are opportunities to enhance our ability to test our hypotheses with colleagues who have expertise beyond our own. The appearance of us acting to collect and hand off samples for someone else’s science puts our entire project at risk, and that is unacceptable to us (and the NSF). Potential collaborators must demonstrate to us how their proposed work would fit into tests of our current hypotheses (see our MCM4 hypotheses here, and a link to the full proposal is on this page), and then it is incumbent upon us (likely 1 or 2 Pis, plus the collaborators) to attempt to integrate the findings into our MCM LTER research activities and products. Field collaborators are also required to provide their collected data for us to include in our MCM LTER database (with the exception of huge data files that can be preserved and archived in other places, e.g., GenBank, to which we could provide a link). Secondly, we are, by design, a small research team. Our LTER budget has to stretch to cover science costs, scientific personnel costs (grad students, postdocs, techs), and monitoring costs. All LTER sites have a dual mandate to monitor their ecosystems and to conduct the highest level of ecosystem research. We are allocated 31 slots to the ice each year and those are spread out across 6 science teams within our project. We cannot afford techs and students in many cases, so students are required to conduct both monitoring and science activities. For example, our stream team is often made up of graduate students (likely only 1 or 2 are funded by the project, others might be paid volunteers) who spend most of their 3 month deployment gauging streams and keeping our stream gauge network running. Somewhere in that time, they are also able to collect samples, conduct experiments, etc. to support their theses or dissertations. No one comes down to conduct science alone, each group also manages a large monitoring program.